Light from Uncommon Stars

by Ryka Aoki

An adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

My take

I haven’t read a lot of books about trans people, other than pure fantasies. I sincerely hope most of them do not have it as rough as Katrina did in this book, but I suspect that they do. It must be terrible to not feel like you belong in the body you were given at birth. And then for it to be so difficult to change that, and even more difficult for others to accept it. Makes me think that if our culture wasn’t so heavily gendered physically (men’s and women’s restrooms) and metaphorically (you must wear a skirt, you cannot) life would be a whole lot more pleasant for a lot of people.

Anyway, Katrina’s storyline is entwined with aliens, cursed violins, deals with the devil, and a whole range of relationships. And I left with a renewed interest in Asian food. A gut-wrenching yet ultimately uplifting read.